A donation of masks is received at Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital, on Monday March 23, 2020, after an appeal to the public for medical supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario and Quebec closing non-essential businesses, cannabis stores remaining open

TORONTO — Ontario reported 85 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 588, as non-essential businesses in the province prepared to close.

The large increase includes one more death, a man in his 90s from Durham Region. Seven people have now died of the illness in the province.

The updated numbers also show there is a growing backlog of test results, with more than 10,000 people now waiting to find out if they are positive for COVID-19.

Ontario has ordered all non-essential businesses to close by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday for at least 14 days in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce called on the government to give businesses more time to shift more complicated operations, such as payroll.

A lengthy list of businesses that will be allowed to remain open includes grocery stores and pharmacies, alcohol and cannabis retail stores, gas stations, and construction sites.

A spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford said mental health and addictions organizations have warned that “shutting off the supply of alcohol and cannabis would put undue pressure on the health-care system as those undergoing withdrawal sought medical attention.”

Power and telecommunications will continue to run, as will taxis, vehicle repair and rental businesses, companies that support IT infrastructure service providers and clean drinking water.

Child-care services for essential workers and home daycares with fewer than six children, veterinary and animal health services, and funeral services are also exempted from closure, alongside dry cleaners, laundromats and a number of other industries.

Dry cleaners were exempted because they provide an important service to front-line workers who have to wear uniforms, and many provide laundry services, said Ivana Yelich, a spokeswoman for Ford.

The government has said working from home and online commerce are permitted to continue for all businesses.

Quebec has also ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, with a similar list to Ontario of what is allowed to stay open. However, in Quebec the construction sector has only narrow exemptions.

Ontario, meanwhile, has a long list of construction projects that are exempted, including “construction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors.”

The Ontario Construction Consortium, speaking on behalf of workers, as well as carpenters’ and painters’ unions, has called for the premier to suspend work on construction sites for 14 days.

“It makes no sense that you can’t have your neighbour over for a cup of coffee yet construction sites are expected to continue operations and they can have hundreds of employees working in close proximity to each other,” OCC executive director Phil Gillies said in a statement.

“This is contrary to the best advice of public health officials to maintain social distancing.”